Posts Tagged ‘Hofheimer Grotto’

April 10, 2014

Each week the challenges change.  I recall my sister-in-law once telling me, “Life as a parent never gets easier, it just gets different.”  The same goes for being a daughter … “Life as a daughter never gets easier, it just gets different.

As I signed my name in the book I glanced over and saw Dad sitting in the dining room sipping coffee, alone at his table.  I approached.  He stared into space, eyes glazed, shirt stained, shoulders hunched.  There is no question in my mind that shaving is no longer a priority, nor should it be.  His walker was nowhere in sight.

“I guess I don’t need it.”

We returned to his room with his lukewarm coffee which he insisted on drinking in his chair before the task of showering, shaving and shampooing.  Half an hour later, I still couldn’t get him to release himself from the comfort of his chair.


Dad, content in his chair sipping coffee

Dad, content in his chair sipping coffee

I busied myself by gluing and clamping a broken chip of wood into another chair.  I traced the shadows of the window shades as they fell upon my sketchbook.  I sorted his newspapers, sifted through his laundry, made inventory notes on his calendar.  Still, he wouldn’t budge.  I handed him a pencil and his green book.

“Well then, Dad, I guess it’s time to write another poem.”

Blank expression…. no response.

“Drawing something usually helps you find your words, Dad.  How about drawing this stuffed owl?”

Dad smiled and set to work on drawing the owl and moved right along to writing his poem and agreeing to take a shower, though he remained grumbly about the idea of going shopping for new sneakers.

The owl drawing

The owl drawing

Inspirations galore,

Where do you start !

The sunshine from above, –

The breezes from somewhere.

The number of choices

Are infinite for sure

Make a choice now

And go for it, – go NOW.

Shave ….. Shower ….. (“Don’t forget to use that green shampoo when you wash your hair, Dad!” I shout through the door).  He came out of the bathroom with wet hair, but the level of the shampoo remained the same, not falling below the line of the rubber band used to keep track of whether or not it’s being used.

Halfway to the car I couldn’t bear to go shopping for sneakers.  The day was gorgeous and Dad looked so happy being outside in the sun with the blue, blue sky above.  The wind was gentle and the air smelled of spring… finally.

“Dad.  Change of plans.  We’re going for a walk instead of shopping for sneakers.”

Huge smile

“You did well last week at Lord Stirling Park.  What do you think about taking the walker for a more adventurous walk?  We made it through gravel and puddles at the swamp, do you think we can handle rocks and tree roots with this walker?”

“I guess we won’t know until we try, will we?” (How lucky am I to have a dad like this?)

I parked far away from the trail head so that we could still get a decent walk in if we couldn’t get very far along the rooty, rocky path.  The last time we visited Hofheimer Park we took the short path to the grotto.  This time I wanted to try the whole loop, ending up at the grotto.

Happy to be in the woods again!

Happy to be in the woods again!

I missed sharing the giant beech trees with Dad.  Severe storms had uprooted so many trees that the trail was too dangerous when Dad was using his cane for balance.  Why did I think it would be easier with the walker?  I didn’t.  But I wouldn’t have to worry about Dad falling.  We had developed a method for rough terrain last week at Lord Stirling Park.

Guiding Dad's Walker

Guiding Dad’s Walker

I walk ahead and slightly to the left with my right hand on the front of the walker to lift it slightly, keeping it from digging into mud, jamming against rocks or roots and making it easier for Dad to push.  Lucky for me, I was hanging onto the walker when I stepped in a deep hole hidden by leaves.

A rough and rocky road

A rough and rocky road

With each step Dad looked happier and more bright-eyed.  His stamina amazed me.

Walking along the smoother terrain

Walking along the smoother terrain

Walking on the boardwalk around the small pond at Chelsea tires him out more than climbing a steep trail over uneven ground strewn with obstacles while having both hands on an unhappy  walker. He is not as happy walking around the pond as he is surrounded by the giant beech trees.  We had reached the top of the hill and were on our way down before Dad requested a short break.

Taking a break

Taking a break

There had been several short stops for him to blow his nose. Fortunately I remembered a paper towel this time.  At Lord Stirling Dad had resorted to his tried and true method that he had learned as a boy on the farm. Dad taught me how to blow my nose without a hanky when we ran together in the morning before I boarded the bus for high school.  I’m pretty sure Alexis is practiced at the method of nose-blowing while running.  Dad has mastered the techniques.  His dementia has not stolen from him his expertise.  The visuals had been a bit dramatic last week and I made sure to stuff a paper towel in my bag this time around.

Remnants of a Home Run

Remnants of a Home Run

As usual, we found treasures along the trail.  “Looks like someone hit a home run, Chris ….. a long time ago.  I bet that was a good day!”  The tattered ball awoke memories of coaching my brother’s baseball team many, many years ago.  That lead to memories of Dad and I running our first run together around the parking lot of the school where he coached Howard’s team.  Dad had just purchased the first edition of Aerobics and wanted to test it out.  We continued to run together until I left for Germany after graduating high school.

The aerobic runners, forty-six years later

The aerobic runners, forty-six years later

Trees were terribly bare for this time of year.  Spring has been so late in coming.  A few bits of green appeared on tired branches.

A hint of spring.

A hint of spring.

The algae glowed with the pride of being greener than anything else in sight.

Spring algae

Spring algae

We made it all around the loop and stopped in at the grotto before returning to the car.  There will be more good days to come and more not-so-good days to come.  There will come a day when we will no longer be able to walk the rocky, rooty trails together.

Almost at the bridge, but not quite yet.

Almost at the bridge, but not quite yet.

We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. We may be close, but we’re not there yet.




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June 27, 2013

When I arrived at Chelsea, Dad sat alone in the tea room reading the paper.  He didn’t hear me approach.  I watched as he stared at the paper as if he couldn’t focus on the words.  I waited, watching his determination to grasp a bit of what might be going on outside of his narrowed world.  Almost two minutes passed before he saw me standing beside him.  His face lit up and he came to life again.

Opening packages from Louise and Dave

Opening packages from Louise and Dave

I handed Dad the two Father’s Day packages that had arrived at my house from Louise and Dave.  After explaining that they were Father’s Day gifts, he began to open them…. at least he tried to open them.

Package One - Step One

Package One – Step One

Packaging has changed over the years.  The adhesives have gotten stronger and the plastics have the ability to stretch like salt water taffy.

Package One - Step Two

Package One – Step Two

He thought he had it…… but no…….after a great deal of struggling, Dad was able to open a large enough slit to reach his hand in, grab the bag inside of the bag and pull it out through the slit.

Package One - Step three

Package One – Step three

The bag inside the bag was just as difficult to open.

Package One - Step Four

Package One – Step Four

Dad does not give up easily.

Showing Off his new suspenders

Showing Off his new suspenders

Eventually, a new pair of navy suspenders lay in his hands. He switched his old for his new and sat back down to tackle the second package.

Package Two - Step One

Package Two – Step One

The experience was the same as with the first package….. but now he was a pro.

Package Two - Step Two

Package Two – Step Two

I think you get the picture.  The only difference was that he finally allowed me to help by slicing through the bag with my pocket knife.

Proudly displaying his new dress pants

Proudly displaying his new dress pants

After a quick stop to his room, we headed to Hofheimer Grotto.  We hadn’t been able to walk the paths after Hurricane Sandy.  Too many trees had blown down, blocking the trails.  I hoped that they had been cleared by now.

Cutting a trail through fallen trees

Cutting a trail through fallen trees

Dad hardly noticed the fallen trees or the huge chunks that had been cut from them so that the trails were clear for walking.

the new terrain

the new terrain

Dad just kept walking, focused on his footing and balance, oblivious to the state of the forest.  There was a time, months ago, when he talked non-stop about the trees either growing straight and tall or bending due to the wind and sun.    Here they were, his beloved trees, strewn about like pulled weeds left to decompose in the sun and rain.  Dad said nothing, he just kept walking.

Hofheimer Grotto

Hofheimer Grotto

The Grotto was in shambles.  I felt my cheeks wet.  I remembered the first time Dad and I walked here and discovered the grotto, a hidden treasure, an architectural wonder, surrounded by majestic pines.  Only a few of the pines remain.  The rest fell into the murky water, knocking stones and boulders down with them as they fell.  the grotto had changed and so had Dad.  I didn’t want to linger.

As a change of pace, as well as to distract me from my grief, I decided to take Dad for a haircut.  I don’t usually think of it and I didn’t think it was right to leave the haircuts for Jane to handle.  I wanted to surprise her…… and that I did.  It turns out that she had taken him for a haircut just last week!

Dad smiling when complimented on his great head of hair

Dad smiling when complimented on his great head of hair

Next time, I’ll take him to Sal’s in Martinsville.  A sports cut is not exactly what he needed.  Sorry Dad… Sorry Jane.

Back at Chelsea, I pulled the box of stationary out of my bag.  It has been a long, long time since Dad wrote anyone a note, addressed an envelope, put a stamp on it and mailed it off to a friend or loved one.  I thought I might help him write a thank you note to Louise and Dave.

What is it I am writing about?

What is it I am writing about?

“Why would I be writing a thank you note?”

“Louise and Dave sent you pants and suspenders.”

“Oh… where are they?”

“You’re wearing the suspenders.  The pants are in the closet.”

Dad looked down at his navy suspenders.  “These are new?”

“Yes, Dad.  You just got them today.”

“And where are the trousers?  May I see them again?”

I showed him the new trousers.

“Those are really nice.  Where did they come from?”

As you can imagine.  Writing the thank you note was more of a challenge than I had anticipated.

The Thank You Note

The Thank You Note

Eventually, the mission was accomplished.  I decided to wait for another day to help Dad write a note to his friend, Daisy Horn.

I’ll post what he wrote next time.  I don’t want to spoil it for Louise and Dave.

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While I was checking with Ashley to see how Dad made out at Chelsea during the three days Chelsea was without heat during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Dad slipped into the dining hall for lunch.  I panicked when there was no response to my knocking on his door.

“I think he went to lunch” remarked a woman in the hallway.  She was correct.  The dining hall had been empty when I arrived. Dad now sat alone, reading his paper.  I whisked him away before he could place his order.

Deciding on a suitable outer garment for the day’s adventure presented more of a challenge than I might have expected.  We settled on his red sweater and his yellow sweatshirt in spite of the fact that the sweater is missing three buttons.  Fortunately, there are four extra buttons sewn to the collar ????  I’ll cut off the extra buttons and use them to replace the missing ones.

We stopped at Muscle Maker Grill for lunch before exploring the condition of the Hofheimer Grotto trail.  Dad quickly decided on a chicken breast sandwich as well as a baked potato as his side dish.  Wow!  No indecisiveness today!

“And would you like a beverage?” asked the woman behind the counter.

“Coffee, please.”

“Dad, they don’t have coffee here, would you like water?”

“What?  No coffee?  That’s impossible.”

“Dad, they don’t have coffee here.”

“They have to have coffee …. everybody has coffee.  What kind of a place doesn’t have coffee?  How can a place stay in business if they don’t serve coffee?”

I grabbed a bottle of lemon water and led Dad, still carrying on about the coffee, to a table where I distracted him by pulling out his green sketchbook and pencil.

“Dad, please write a poem about not being able to order coffee.”

No Coffee?

What? No Coffee?

Unheard of, —

What is a restaurant like, —

That has — NO COFFEE?!

I do not ever, ever

Remember going to a restaurant

That does not have


Woops. — Chris tells me

That we have been here

Seven (well at least five) times, —–

And they have never had coffee.

(Hey, —- how do they

Stay in business? Hmmmmm?

Men at the Muscle Maker Grill

While Dad wrote, I drew the men sitting at the counter enjoying their food and non-caffeinated beverages.  He finished his poem in record time.  I hoped to burn off the remainder of his disgruntled mood by asking him to draw the bottle of lemon water.

The DASANI bottle of lemon flavored water

Dad devoured his lunch, all but the potato skin.  I thought it best to squeeze one more poem out of him before we took our walk.



Minutes of each day

Are full “to the brim”

With opportunities.

We can write

We can sleep

We can sit and think, –

But once the minutes are gone, –

They’re gone.

“Are you done?”

Chris asks.

“I’m not done.’

That’s my answer.

I’m still at it.




Staying “at it”

Is the key.

Always having a goal.-

Is food for the soul.

Food for the soul.

We left the Muscle Maker Grill and drove up the road to the grotto trail.  In spite of the multitude of trees fallen from the winds of the hurricane, we made it to Hofheimer Grotto by starting at the end of the trail loop rather than the beginning.

Trying to make sense of the fallen trees

Dad has a habit of knocking off dead branches and attacking limbs that are in the way of paths.  I imagined Dad creating a domino effect of falling trees with his good intentions of clearing the path.  I’ve become more cautious while walking with Dad, hoping to keep him safe from falls and injury.  Rather than walk the trail through the woods, climbing over fallen trees and risking more trees falling on top of us, we walked around the five ball fields.

Ball fields

“Did I ever tell you I used to pitch softball?

Thinking about pitching softball

“I practiced by throwing the ball at a knothole in a board on the side of the barn.  I got pretty good … until someone accused me of throwing sidearm.”

“What happened then, Dad?”

“I didn’t know I was throwing sidearm, but you’re supposed to throw underhand.  I lost both speed and accuracy.”

“How old were you?”

“Oh, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.”

We made our rounds of the ball fields and ended up back at the bleachers.  I suggested to Dad that he write a little bit about pitching softball.  I had jotted down a few notes about him pitching sidearm.  Instead of writing in my sketchbook, I had written in his by mistake.  He appeared baffled by my notes.

Reading and re-reading my notes

After a lengthy spell of reading my notes, Dad put pencil to paper.

Reviewing his words

He wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and wrote.  He reviewed his words and wrote more.  He turned the page and wrote more.

Dad writing about pitching softball …. or so I thought

What a strange day.   Dad fought me tooth and nail, not wanting to write at lunch, not wanting to write after our walk, yet there he sat scribbling away.  Occasionally he stopped and looked as if he had finished.

“Could you read me what you wrote?” I asked.

“No, I’m still at it.”

I picked up my pen and sketched Dad’s gloves peeking out of his pocket.

Gloves in Dad’s Sweatshirt Pocket

Somehow, Dad had switched gears…..

Softball Pitcher at age Fifteen

Trapping For Muskrats in Indiana

A near-one-mile-long creek ran through our farm in Indiana.  It ran through our corn and wheat fields.  The banks were 1-3 feet high, perfect for muskrat “runs”.  I would set steel traps at the base of these runs.  They were very effective in catching the muskrats.  A chain would run from the trap to a stake driven in the middle of the stream.  The muskrat would start down the run, get trapped at the base of the run, and get tangled up with the chain wrapped around the stake in the middle of the stream.  The muskrat would drown trying to escape.  I would sell the muskrats for $1 each.  Our hired -hand, Owen Connor, lived in an upstairs bedroom, ate three meals a day with us, and was paid $1 per day.  He was a bachelor who was born and raised in Kentucky, and smoked Tuxedo tobacco in a pipe.  He wore out two or three pairs of gloves a year, “shucking corn”. He would “shuck” a wagon-load in one day, working perhaps 10 hours, – drive the horse-drawn wagon to the corn crib, – come in the house to eat supper, then go out after supper and shovel the load of corn from the wagon to the corn bin on the barn.  It was a long day – a typical day.  My job was to feed and milk the cows, and run the milk through the “separator” (separating its cream from the milk). About once a week, I would churn a batch of butter from cream skimmed each morning and evening from the milk.  I loved the taste of the buttermilk from the butter jar.

Well then ….. walks with Dad get more interesting all the time.  Maybe next time, after we talk about trapping muskrats, Dad will write something about pitching softball.

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It has been a difficult week…..

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I drove my brother to the train station this morning.  I handed him a pencil and Dad’s green sketchbook. Dad is in Amherst, Massachusetts with Anna prior to joining Jane and her family in cape Cod.

Thinking of what to write

Pencil to paper

she says

or no lunch

too many thoughts

none simple

time is so special —-

I’ll hug my sister

Perhaps I should backtrack to last Thursday …….

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I picked Dad up early.  I was distracted by the fact that I would be visiting with the kids’ Dad after having lunch and a nice walk with Dad.  Michael was diagnosed with lung cancer last November and was not doing well.  We had a date to play music together, something we hadn’t done for about eighteen years.  Michael and I met rock climbing in 1977.

Rock Climbing in Boulder Canyon

In addition to rock climbing, we both loved playing music.

Michael playing banjo

Dad’s was ready to go when I arrived.  We stopped in at the physical therapy room so that I could find out what the adjustments are on the machine he can work out on every day if he wants to.

Dad working out

After a short, ten minute work out, we drove to Hofheimer Grotto.  But not before a serious photo shoot of the fish tank.

Goldfish No. 1

Goldfish No. 2

We decided to walk the trail backwards, starting at the grotto.  Of course, Dad had no recollection of seeing the grotto before.  In fact, he didn’t really know what it was.

Puzzling over the geology

“You look puzzled, Dad.”

Hofheimer Grotto

“I’m wondering about this strange geology.  This must have been created by changing water levels.”

I remembered our visit to Watkins Glen State Park many years ago.  Every twenty steps Dad would give another geology lesson to the kids, telling them how many billions and billions of years the layers of rock represented.

“Dad, this is a man made structure.”

Cement and Rocks

He didn’t believe me until I pointed out the cement that holds the rocks in place.  We moved on ……

The theme for the day turned out to be Tree Graffiti.

Tree Graffiti No. 1

Tree Graffiti No. 2

Dad waited patiently as I veered off the path to snap dozens and dozens of photos of wounded trees.  Notice the initials “KS” in the upper right corner.

Dad waiting patiently

“Hmmmmm…..”KS” ……… that reminds me of a girlfriend I once had….. Katherine Stokes.”

Katherine Stokes and Dad were twelve years old.  Katherine was blonde, short and of medium stature.  Her father owned one of the two general stores in Odell, Indiana.  Odell was small and could support only one general store.  Katherine’s father went bankrupt.  John P. Hatt’s general store did not.  Katherine had a half-brother named Carl Dinwitty.

Katherine’s best friend was Lucille Schultz.  Lucille’s boyfriend, John Borum, was a friend of Dads.  the four of them would go behind the church and kiss.

Fascinating Tree growth No. 1

I continued to be distracted by the trees.

Natural Tree Sculpture

When we arrived back at the car I handed dad his book and sketched the trees as Dad wrote about Odell, Indiana.

Not very fascinating trees

Odell, Indiana

It was a little village, about 3 miles from the farm.  John P. Hatt owned the only store there and I believe he sold ice cream cones (as well as eggs, flour, gloves, etc.)  For a little while, a second store was owned by Russell Stokes, my girlfriend’s father, but two stores was probably too much for one little po-dunk village to support.  I wonder where she is now, — if she’s still around — an old lady in a rocking chair ?!

I remember being told to hurry up and eat the ice cream cone — it was melting (Wow!  the things that you remember !)

We stopped at the grocery store to buy our lunch and had a picnic in Dad’s room before I left for South Orange.

My visit with Michael was wonderful.  We talked and laughed and played music together …. Will the Circle Be Unbroken, John Hardy and one that I didn’t know.  It was just two chords, G and D, mostly D.  Mike then played me Tennessee Waltz on his pedal steel guitar.  Though he clearly was weak, I understood why he and Karen were still hoping for the best.  He was due to have another scan in a week’s time to see if he was responding to the third treatment.  We agreed to get together again in a week or two.  He asked me to bring my fiddle the next time.  There would be no next time.  Michael passed away two days later.

My brother caught a train from New Hampshire to come to the service. He and Michael had always enjoyed one another.  They both were rock climbers and woodworkers.  I was climbing with my brother  when I first met Michael.

Climbing with Michael in Boulder Canyon, 1977

I am grateful for my family, friends, siblings, for my children and for my husband, Tom.  I am fortunate.

I dropped Howard off at the train station this morning …….

Memories mingling with words

Pencil to paper

she says

or no lunch

too many thoughts

none simple

time is so special —-

I’ll hug my sister

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A bit of backtracking ….

Father’s Day BBQ on June 16th, 2012

Jane, Gramps, Alexis, Nicole and Tom

What a treat to have both Alexis and Nicole join us!

Hot Dogs, Coleslaw and Deviled Eggs

The picnic feast.  Tom managed to catch the inside of his new smoker on fire and bubble the paint off the outside of the smoker.

Smoker Meltdown

Needless to say, the turkey dogs were a bit singed to say the least.  While we discussed the temperature tolerances of a smoker, Gramps enjoyed the similarity between his wine glass and the sky.

A blue, blue wine glass and a blue, blue sky

A good time was had by all.  Unfortunately, we did not play croquet.  Alexis and Nicole had to head back to Philadelphia.

The following Thursday ………

Somerset Medical Center’s Senior Advantage in Life (SAIL) Program , Exercises for the Brain …. June 21, 2012

Dad and I didn’t take a walk.  Instead, Jane, Dad and I attended the SAIL program.  Dad was amazing at working through the puzzles and finding mathematical patterns.

Brain Games

I found it interesting that many of the games used to exercise the brain and keep it healthy are the exact same exercises Mike and I did to retrain his brain so that his eyes worked properly together.

The following Thursday …… June 28, 2012

Dad’s calendar has vanished.  Perhaps he threw it away without realizing it.  I wanted him to write Physical Therapy on his calendar so he would know that it was something he agreed to do.  Fortunately he had a few more photo calendars in his room and chose a new one to be his “Brains”.  The next thing he had to chose was a walking stick.  After falling twice on our last walk, I’m not leaving Chelsea without one.

Bananas or Watermelons?

Our first stop was Kings Market.  Dad had run out of toilet paper again and I forgot to restock the trunk of my car to have it handy in case he was running low.  We decided to grab food for a picnic rather than go to the Muscle Maker Grill.  Dad has such a difficult time making choices.  He simply doesn’t want to make a choice.  He wants me to make them for him.  I refuse.

We stood before the display of sandwiches, wraps and salads.

“Dad, what would you like for lunch?”

“What would you like?”

“Dad, you can pick whatever you like, we don’t have to get the same thing.”

“What are you getting?”

“I’m getting  sprouted brown rice with veggies and feta cheese.”


Turkey Club Sandwich

Dad ended up with a turkey club sandwich.

I wanted to get a photo of him in the store and asked him if he would like his photo with the bananas or the watermelons.

“Where would you like me to be?”

“Wherever you want to be, Dad.  Which do you like better?  Bananas or watermelons?”



Hofheimer Trail is less than a mile from the grocery store.  The trail is relatively even and a port-a-john is located near the parking lot.  I’m taking fewer chances as the weeks go by.

Poor Dad.  I am relentless.

“I’d like you to write something before we eat.”
Dad threw me a mischievous grin and grabbed his sandwich.

“Nope.  Not til you write something.”

Not wanting to write

I reach for a sandwich

But “No, no, no —-“

Words before food.

(Now may we eat?)

Happy Dad!

After lunch, there was one more piece of writing I wanted Dad to do.  I wanted him to write a note to himself that would remind him of why he needs to go to physical therapy.

Writing the note to himself

June 28, 2012

I have been falling — and should start doing physical therapy at Chelsea.

Dave Carter

I am sitting at a picnic table with daughter Chris, and we have discussed this.  It’s a good idea.

I also agreed to start using a cane — to help me with my balance.  On my last walk with Chris, I fell twice on even ground.  the 1st time I grabbed onto Chris and pulled her down to the ground with me, hurting her hip.  I want to get stronger, so that I can continue going on walks with Chris.  I do not want either of us to get hurt.

Another necessary stop before we head out on the trail.

Playing it safe

Finally we were ready to take our walk.  Dad appeared to be pretty steady.  The walking stick helped, I’m sure.

On the trail

Conversation was minimal.  We had exhausted our topics during lunch.  Dad told the story of Dr. Potter, Head of Engineering at Perdue, presenting a beaker filled with a blue liquid, liquid hydrogen, to the class to illustrate why the sky is blue.  I had heard the story before.  I heard it three more times during lunch.  Dad alternated between asking me how the family was and telling me about Dr. Potter’s beaker of blue liquid.

Dad grew silent.

“What are thinking about, Dad?”

“I was thinking about making conversation ……. and how that’s done.”

The loud little stream

We followed the trail up the hill, skirted the golf course and headed back toward the grotto.  Dad lost his balance twice, but caught himself with the help of the walking stick.

We came to a small wooden plank bridge that crossed a trickling stream.  Dad stopped on the bridge and stared down at the water, puzzled.

“That’s a mighty loud noise for a little stream like that!”

The water fountain

What Dad heard was the fountain in the middle of the pond that the stream trickled into.

A little further along the trail we came to the grotto.  The surface of the water was completely covered in algae.

Algae in the grotto

Strange patterns criss-crossed the water.

Odd patterns

“What do you think made those tracks?”  Dad asked.

“I don’t know …. what do you think?”

After a long pause ….. “Ducks.”

I wonder if it could be turtles.  I’ve seen plenty of turtles in the pond.  I haven’t seen a duck anywhere near the pond.

Taking a rest

On the way back to the parking lot we saw a brightly colored bench in the corner of a paved area beyond a locked gate.  The bench was inside of the corner, marked off with a red line.

Designated Smoking Area

Turned out to be the designated smoking area for the workers who worked in the building beyond the locked gate.  I’m not sure how they got to the designated area.  Maybe they climbed over the fence.

Dad was quite content sitting on the bench, not at all anxious to continue our walk.  Eventually, we moved on.

Baseball Fields

As we approached the car, Dad gazed past the car to the baseball fields.

“I always feel good when I see baseball fields.  They were good times.  It makes me think of David.”

Though the walk had not been a long one, Dad was fatigued.  We returned to Chelsea.

Black-Eyed Susans

The gardens at Chelsea are stunning.  A blanket of Black-Eyed Susans soak up the heat and the sunshine.  Dad instructed me as to how I should take the photo of the happy looking flowers.

As we walked to his room, we passed a woman fast asleep in a chair in the hallway.

“This is a good place for old people,” Dad said, then laughed at his remark.

Before leaving, I asked Dan to make a copy of the note Dad had written after lunch.  I gave the copy to the physical therapist in case she needed to show it to him the next day, his first day of physical therapy.  I hope it went well.

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Two weeks have passed without posting the experiences of my Thursdays with Dad and tomorrow is Thursday again. I’ve had an emotional block, unable to find enough joy and humor to balance the grief I am experiencing as I watch the rapid decline of my father.

So now I will try to catch up …

April 5, 2012

The day began with a quick visit to Dr. Frisoli for Dad’s Vitamin B12 shot.  From there we drove to the house.  The buyer’s metal scanning crew found what they thought might be an oil tank buried in the yard.  The oil tank was removed in 2009.  I brought Dad to the house hoping he might remember what sort of propane tanks were used to fuel the gas stove before the natural gas line was installed two decades later.

Searching for clues

We circled around the house four or five times.  Each time I tried to trigger Dad’s memory in a different way.  Each trip around the house he asked what it was we were doing.  Each time around he emphatically stated that we never had two tanks buried in the backyard.  Other than that, I wasn’t able to retrieve any useful information.

After the previous week’s bloody mishap I though Hofheimer’s Grotto might be a safe place, a flat, pleasant walk on soft dirt.

Picnic Lunch without the protein

We started with a picnic lunch.  Unfortunately, I left the almond butter on my kitchen counter.

Banana Sandwiches

Instead of eating almond butter and banana sandwiches, which would have been odd enough, we had plain banana sandwiches instead.  Dad, of course, loved them.  He especially liked the yellow flowered tablecloth that matched the banana peels and the napkins.  He is so easy to please!

After lunch we walked to the grotto.  Dad’s balance was fairly poor.  I decided to do the trail backwards, starting at the grotto instead of ending at the grotto.

Hofheimer Grotto

The warm weather had stimulated the growth of algae, but beauty of the spot was not diminished.  Dad wanted to join me walking the rim of the grotto.  I hesitated.  The path was fairly even, but a bit narrow.  I agreed as long as we held hands and walked slowly.

Hofheimer Grotto Reflections

After walking the rim path

We arrived safely on the other side.  Dad was pleased to have different vantage point.

“How are we going back?  Are we walking across that?”  He pointed to the narrow, perhaps ten inch wide, cement wall that acted as a dam.

Crossing the damn?

Remembering the bloody result of crossing a much wider damn the week before, I told him absolutely not!

“Dad, did you want to walk across that?”

“No, not really.”

We had to cut our walk short to return to the house for more investigating.  During lunch I had a conversation with my brother and we thought it best to check out a couple more things.

Dibs on the small one!

We made a pit stop before leaving the park.

“Dad, do you want the big one or the little one?”

“Oh, I think I’ll take the big one.”

Dad laughed on the way back to the car.

“Reminds me of when I was a kid ….  We had a two-holer at the farm.  One hole was big and one hole was small.  When my cousin and I would have to use it, we’d call dibs on the holes, hollering ‘Dibs on the small one! or Dibs on the big one’ ….. but we were small ourselves so we usually wanted the small one.”

I hadn’t heard that story before.

After we finished our detective work at the house we took a walk around the neighborhood.  We ran into two neighbors, both delighted to see Dad.

The blue blue house that matches the blue blue sky

One neighbor recently painted their house.  It stopped Dad dead in his tracks.  The house matched the sky perfectly.  Dad looked bewildered, as if his favorite blue, blue sky had dripped all over the house.

We headed back to Chelsea….. no poetry or sketches today.

April 12, 2012

I spent the morning digging for the ghost tank…… and finding nothing.

When I arrived at Chelsea, Dad was asleep.  The remains of his lunch were on a tray on the floor beside his chair.  On the table was his new copy of  Atlas of World Aviation.  The book had vanished three days after it had arrived as a birthday present from Louise and Dave.

Atlas of World Aviation

Whereas a month ago Dad became totally absorbed by the book.  He appeared a bit confused by it this time around.

I was relieved when Jane joined us for a game of cards.  I needed a distraction from my sadness.  We played one to ten and back again.  By the end of the game Dad had managed to do quite well, as he usually does when playing games.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.  I’m hoping for good weather.

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“Look, Chris, the clouds are making a cross in the sky!”

The Cloud Cross in the Sky

Puffs of cumulus clouds

Fill the deep – blue sky, —

They are moving rapidly —

Pushed by the winter breezes.

Dad had written ‘Pushed by fall breezes”. I reminded him that it was winter.

I parked the car in the lot next to the playing fields behind the Municipal Complex in Warren.  While Dad wrote a few words about birthdays in Indiana I sketched a young tree.

A few clinging leaves

Birthdays in Indiana

Were often big events

Mothers baked big cakes

They were festooned with icing —

And glowing with candles.

The birthday song was sung

Candles were blown out

Cake was cut.

It was a glorious time

Smiles all around the table

The candles we see dimly in the past

The memories glow brightly.

Dad's drawing of his birthday cake

We had talked about birthdays while driving from Chelsea to the Hofheimer Woods.  Dad’s cousin, Dick Davison was born on January 24th.  Dad was born on February 24th.  The Carter family loved the coincidence and celebrated both with big family gatherings.  I reminded Dad that he was about to have a birthday.  He wasn’t sure if he was turning 88 or 89.

“You’ll be eighty-nine, Dad.  What was your favorite birthday cake?”


“You answered that mighty fast.”

“I noticed that.” ….. ” Chris, do you remember the name of the doctor who delivered me?”

“Wasn’t it Doctor Allhands?  Is is name spelled with one ‘L’ or two?”

“Two ‘L’s'”

“You answered that question pretty fast, too.”

“I noticed that.”

The day was off to a great start.  Dad had made his bed and was clean shaven when I arrived.  I made a note to myself to look up the definition of festooned. (Festoon – Adorn (a place) with chains, garlands, or other decorations: “the room was festooned with balloons”.)

“I also remember the name of one of your elementary school classmates, Dad.  Her name was Cleonice Decay, the most dreadful name I’ve ever heard. ”

I had packed extra plastic bags and a spare pair of shoes for both of us.  I didn’t want Dad to have to walk sock-footed into Chelsea again this week.  What I hadn’t realized is that there was a loop of trail on high ground behind the Municipal Complex.  Perhaps we could have an afternoon without life threatening adventure and mud packed shoes.  A bit dull, perhaps, but a nice change of pace.

We closed our sketchbooks and got out of the car.  My less than detailed description of the trail indicated that it started behind the playing fields, looped around the Hofheimer Mausoleum and led back to the parking lot.  As we turned toward the fields, a young woman walking a German Shepherd stopped dead in her tracks about twenty yards from us. I thought her dog might not like strangers, but the dog looked rather friendly to me.

While spending time with Dad I find I am more open to conversations with strangers.  I assumed that the woman had just returned from walking the trail with her dog.

“Could you tell me where the trail loop is?”

She remained quite still.  “I’m not sure.  I might have seen it.  I would be careful though if you plan on entering the woods.  Limbs might fall on you!”

I thanked her for the heartfelt warning.  Dad and I passed, keeping what we felt was a safe distance from the woman, hoping she wouldn’t feel threatened.  Her dog looked as if he might like to join us, but stayed by her side.

A scary place

I saw Dad glance up at the branches.  Not the slightest rustle could be heard from the few leaves still clinging to the branches.  There was not a whisper of a breeze nor gust of wind to shake a limb loose to fall upon our heads.

“Do we dare enter the woods, Dad?”

“Well sure.”  We started down the trail.  Dad paused to check out the limbs.

Practicing Caution

We both broke out laughing.   “I’m sure I couldn’t have convinced that woman to cross a river on a fallen tree like we did on our last walk.”  I reminded Dad of our earlier adventure.  For the next two hours we explored the woods, joking about the danger of treacherous rocks, leaves and fallen branches from the early October snow storm.

Dangerous limbs

One tree after another beckoned us to leave the trail.  First it was a giant oak (I think).  Its trunk had split into multiple trunks quite early in its youth.

King of the Forest

I snapped a photo of its upper limbs to help identify it later… I still haven’t checked it out.

Branch patterns

The leaves on the ground beneath it appear to me to be oak leaves mixed with beech leaves.

Dad contemplating the identity of the tree

Dad was not convinced the other trees were beech trees.  They were so straight and tall, unlike the gorgeous beech tree at 1813 Middle Road.

The Mastodon Tree

Heading up the hill, away from the oak and beech trees, we found a tree with giant tusks. At the top of the hill the trail curved to the right to avoid a golf course.

Golf Course Dangers

I left the trail, cut through the woods and stepped out onto the golf course to snap a photo of what I felt to be a greater danger than falling limbs, the possibility of being hit in the head with a flying golf ball.  After snapping a few shots I turned to see a lone golfer swing his club in my direction.

As we walked, I asked Dad if he knew when he became aware of the high degree of competition in the world.  Every week he talks about the trees growing straight and tall, competing for sunlight.  He talks about gas stations competing for business and coffee shops competing by offering better food and pleasant service.

“Grandmommy always talked about her flowers having to compete with the weeds for sunlight, water and nourishment from the soil.”

Grandmother Carter loved flowers.  She grew some in pots and some in gardens.  She often had fresh flowers in a vase in the center of the dining room table.  Occasionally there was a vase of flowers in the living room and even in the kitchen.

Our shadows with the fungi tree

As the trail circled back we came upon a tree covered in fungi.

“Do you know what side of the tree fungus grows on?” Dad asked.

“Moss is said to grow on the north side of trees, so I suppose fungus might, too.”

“You’re right, Chris.”

I glanced around at the other side of the tree and saw even more fungi.

“Take a look at this side, Dad.”

“Hmmmmm.” He pulled out his cell phone to check the time.

I pulled out my cell phone to check my compass app.

We both came to the same conclusion.  The north side of the tree was the only side that didn’t have any fungus on it at all.

“Dad, do you realize that most kids don’t use clocks with hour hands any more?  I don’t think they’d be able to tell north from south with their digital watches.  You can use your digital cell phone time because you translate it into the position of hands on a clock.”

“Of course.  You point the hour hand to the sun, bisect the angle between the hour hand and the twelve.  That’s South.  directly behind you is North.”

We got to talking about the wonders of a cell phone.  In my back pocket I was able to carry a phone, clock, compass, maps, dictionary, encyclopedia, flashlight, stereo and a camera.

“Can it make a milkshake?” Dad asked.

Sketching while Dad writes

We took a short break on a log to make a few notes.

Vases – pronounced

Vases (rhymes with faces) by some, (my family)

vases (rhymes with causes) by others, (“city folks”).

Bitter-sweet plants grew on

fence rows on the farm in Indiana.

Mother loved to cut off branches, bring

them in from the fields and place them

in vases on the dining room table.

As I recall, they would stay

beautiful for weeks


We were coming to the end of the trail loop.  Just ahead on the left I saw what looked to be a stone wall of sorts.  Upon rounding the bend I gasped at the incredible stone structure on the other side of the wall.  Whoever built it had to have visited Gaudi’s Park Guell.

Hofheimer Grotto

Another view of the grotto

I looked back at the map and trail description.  It mentioned the Hofheimer Mausoleum, but nothing about this incredible construction of rocks.  It didn’t appear to be a mausoleum to me.  Fortunately, part of the Municipal Complex is a library with a delightful research librarian who googled it for us.  We had missed seeing the Mausoleum.  We will have to hunt for that on another day.  The rock structure is called the Hofheimer Grotto. For the past several years the township has been trying to restore power to the grotto to keep the pond aerated to minimize the growth of algae.  The grotto was built  over an old copper mine more than eighty years ago by Nathan Hofheimer, one of the founders of General Motors.

In addition to surviving flying golf balls and limbs that didn’t fall, we felt as if we had discovered a hidden wonder of the world.  The research librarian is going to skip lunch to walk the trail on the next nice day.  She had no idea it existed and that it was only a short walk from the library.

Hungry from our exploring, we grabbed lunch at our favorite spot, The Muscle Maker Grill.

Dasani Water Bottle

No coffee is served.  Dad ordered grilled chicken sandwich and water.  As we were finishing our meal I looked up to see Jane heading across the parking lot toward the Muscle Maker.  She had seen the K-car in the parking lot and joined us.  That was the icing on the cake for the day.

I’m glad to be part of a fearless family.  Life is too short to worry about falling limbs on a beautiful, windless afternoon.  We would never have discovered the grotto if we hadn’t taken our walk in the woods.

When we returned to Chelsea, there was a birthday package from Louise and Dave outside Dad’s door.  Inside, wrapped in bright colored tissue paper was an Atlas of Aviation.  Dad poured over the pages of the book for a good half hour, stopping to tell me stories.

“Our hired hand (Owen Conner) had the headphones on in the kitchen listening to the radio.  I remember him getting all excited and saying ‘He made it! He made it!”  Lindbergh had landed in Paris, completing the first solo flight across the Atlantic.  It was May 20th 1927 and Lindbergh had flown from New York to Paris in thirty three and a half hours.

Lindbergh’s plane, Spirit of St. Louis, was a Ryan Monoplane.  The windows had been removed with the hopes that the wind blowing on Lindbergh’s face would keep him awake.  He flew without radio or parachute, using the space for extra fuel.  Dad was three years old.

When Dad was six years old, Glen Goddard landed in the bean field.  He flew Dad to Valporaiso where his Uncle Mac Davison’s family lived.  He thought he returned home by train.  I think he was a bit young to travel alone by train.  Most likely his parents picked him up in Valporaiso and drove him home.  He did ride the train with his Grandmother Carter (at the age of six…… I think Dad’s memory got stuck at the age of six).  She took Dad on a trip top Detroit.  I asked Dad if that might have been after his sister Dorothy died.  Maybe Grandmother Carter took Dad on a trip to give his mother some time to recover from the tragedy.

“In Wheeler Cemetery I think there’s a gravestone for Dorothy.  The cemetery is between Odell and Wingate.”

“Are any other family members buried in that cemetery?”

“Oh yeah….. my father’s father and mother, Charles and Etta Carter.  I think my father and mother are buried there, too.”

“Dad…… Let’s call Lou and Dave and thank them for this wonderful book.”

Dad dialed the number.  The phone was ringing.  Dad covered the phone, leaned over the open Atlas, reached to look at the cover of my sketchbook and, seeing it blank, asked in a whisper …. “Chris, what am I thanking her for?”

Dad and I will spend many hours turning the pages of that beautiful book.  Many stories will be told.  It was another good Thursday with Dad.

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